As China finally opens its borders to foreign Olympic athletes less than four months before the Winter Games in Beijing, Spain’s Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. proclaimed his confidence in the organisers.
Samaranch Salisachs, since 2018 president of the IOC Coordination Commission for Beijing 2022, commented that the Chinese hosts, in line with their internal protection rules, are giving the IOC “all the facilities they are capable of”.
The Spanish Olympic leader’s reflections on the upcoming Olympic Games were heard at the XIV Olympic Forum in Barcelona, which last weekend was dedicated to analysing the impact of covid 19 on sport, and in which the President of the Spanish Olympic Committee (COE), Alejandro Blanco, was also a special speaker.
Samaranch assured that the Olympic family attending the Games in the Chinese capital, which open on February 4th, will not have to undergo a three-week quarantine on arrival, as is required of every Chinese resident returning from abroad.
The Olympic official is prioritising this week, from his office in Madrid, communication with International Federations, National Olympic Committees, athletes and IOC members, on the update of the anti-virus measures established by the Chinese authorities.
Coincidentally, foreign athletes and their coaches have started to conduct test events in China.
The sports testing programme will run until 31 December. During this time, around 2,000 foreign athletes are expected for the winter sports programme events, while the Organising Committee is also testing its health protocols, drawing on the experience of the Summer Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo.
China had initially planned to apply its quarantine policy for athletes in this trial period, but dropped that option following feedback from several Olympic federations and committees.
However, its authorities have warned of severe containment plans due to Covid’s risks of foreign arrivals, and do not want headaches in the run-up to the Olympics, so they are stepping up surveillance measures to ensure the safety of participants and, in particular, residents in the host cities of the trials.
As adopted during last week’s China Open speed skating event, all participants in the upcoming events will be subject to management within a bio-secure bubble with access only allowed to the gym and hotels via designated transport services.
Health experts commented that the use of certain high-tech health monitoring and disinfection devices makes the difference for safer and more reliable pandemic containment.
Artificial intelligence robots will operate 24 hours a day in venues and hotels to sterilise and monitor the environment against COVID-19 infection. Participants will receive wearable thermometers, each with a tiny chip that attaches to the user’s skin to report any significant rise in body temperature.
In his appearance at the Catalan forum, Samaranch commented on the health protocols for Beijing 2022 and Tokyo 2020, but warned that the Chinese capital will have its own particular characteristics, as it will be a venue with a virtually fully vaccinated population.
“China does not accept to live with the virus, and wants to defeat the covid,” Samaranch said. “That’s why there are no flights, the connectivity is very bad”. He said that because of the complexity of the Games, “a lot of people” from companies involved in timing, television broadcasting and technology in general are being sent to Beijing.
China will not allow foreign spectators, although it has authorised the presence of spectators from home. Samaranch revealed that he was working with local authorities to gain access to sports venues for international representatives living in China, “so that at least we can see flags of different colours in the stands”.
TOKYO 2020: DEVILISH LOGISTICS AND MORE
For the IOC member, there is no event more complicated to organise than the Olympic Games: 33 world championships have to be staged at the same time and in the same place. “It’s devilish logistics,” he said, and added to that was the “additional layer” of difficulties brought on by the global coronavirus pandemic, which included the unprecedented one-year postponement of the Games.
The keys to finally organising them were flexibility, reducing crowds and ensuring the safety of all staff and athletes, including their mental health, he said.
There were almost 11,000 athletes and 15,000 journalists in Tokyo. Between 1 July and 8 August, 700,000 PCR tests were conducted in the accredited environment during the Games. Of these, 31,000 per day and 43,000 on arrival at the airport, despite an 85 percent vaccination rate among visitors.
In total, there were 67 positives in the bubble (37 on landing), of which 33 were athletes, with 22 having to withdraw.
“No competitions were postponed, cancelled or delayed,” said the son of former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch Torello, who served as IOC President from 1980 to 2001.
Although he regretted the lack of spectators in the stands, “it would have been a greater pity not to have had the Games or athletes”, he insisted, before recalling that many dreams were saved, as 70 percent of Olympic athletes are only one-time Olympians.
Speaking about the future, Samaranch said he hoped for “a stable scenario” after Beijing 2022, with Paris 2024 (“it will bring surprises, with the Olympic spirit outside the stadiums”), Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo 2026 and Los Angeles 2028.
“We still have the Games of the 30th to define,” he said, before immediately reiterating his optimism for the Barcelona-Pyrenees project.
Samaranch revealed that those Games could have a budget of 1.8 billion euros (just over 2 billion dollars), of which the IOC would contribute more than 1 billion euros, while the rest would come from entrance fees and sponsors. “It is an account that is secured,” he said.
In this context, the official remarked that the way of seeing the desire of cities to organise the Games has changed: “Now we no longer talk about if I do the Games, I will spend a lot of money and I won’t have any hospitals. Now, if you have the Games, you can have more hospitals.
He recalled that in a Games there are two budgets, the one for the Games themselves and the one for the investments that do not correspond to the organising committee. According to this second budget, he said that a territory that wants to organise the Games must have a programme for the use of the facilities over the next 30 or 50 years, so “no territory has to invest in facilities directly for the Games”.
In addition, he said that “there is no need for new railways, roads or airports” in the region. “If a territory wants to use the Games as a catalyst for its already planned investment programme, praise be to them”.
For his part, the president of the COE, Alejandro Blanco, insisted that “everything that is done has a legacy”, and stressed that, now “not all events have to be concentrated, but can go to other facilities, or even go to other countries, provided that it is possible due to a geographical issue”.
“There are guidelines adapted to the real times, a quantitative and qualitative leap so that the whole of society understands that it is profitable from an economic point of view, as well as in terms of the image of the country and jobs,” he remarked.
“The Olympic movement will always have regions willing to organise them, we can rest assured,” said Blanco, who recalled that in the Agenda 2020 established by the IOC in 2014, parameters for the achievement of an Olympic venue were reflected in the Madrid bid for the 2020 Games.
During his speech at the Olympic Forum, Blanco praised the sacrifice, patience and good work of all the athletes during the pandemic with a view to achieving an Olympic Games.
Salt Lake City, Sapporo, Vancouver, Ukraine and Barcelona-Pyrenees are the contenders for the 2030 winter festival in this “new era”, an event that has already been welcomed in the first three cities.